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Nothing Shocking

 

Jane's Addiction: Strays

Capitol, 2003

Rating: 3.4

 

 

Posted: July 28, 2003

By Kevin Forest Moreau

On the first proper Jane's Addiction album since 1990's Ritual de lo Habitual, the band's 2003 incarnation -- guitarist Dave Navarro, drummer Stephen Perkins, bassist/newcomer Chris Chaney and vocalist/Lollapalooza visionary/ unlikely alt-rock icon Perry Farrell -- races and stomps with an exuberance that would tire musicians half the fortysomething Farrell's age. Veteran producer Bob Ezrin coats everything with a high layer of gloss, lovingly accentuating Navarro's seemingly endless trick bag of brawny riffs. Even Farrell barks with an intensity he arguably hasn't tapped since the group's 1988 major label debut (and still high-water mark), Nothing's Shocking. Everyone involved, it's fair to say, sounds excited to be stepping back into the legacy of one of the most revered bands of the alternative rock movement.

So it's disappointing to note that that excitement, palpable as it is, fails to translate into a uniformly exciting record. Not that Strays doesn't quicken the pulse -- it does, starting with the aural swoop of its grandiose, metallic opener, "True Nature." But for all their time logged as professional musicians, Farrell and company don't seem to have fully grasped that it takes a lot more than adrenaline to make an arresting rock document, and Strays coasts on their muscular goodwill when it begs to soar.

To be sure, all of the band's trademarks seem to be in place. As evidenced by just the first three songs, Farrell is still fond of altruistic diatribes ("True Nature", "Just Because") and sketches of downtrodden underdogs (the title track); likewise, the players still lurch between hard-rock Valhalla and idyllic, folksy tableaus with a precision that sounds deceptively easy. It's just that there's little substance beyond the surface; the riffs don't reach escape velocity, and the lyrics weigh anchor too early, bogging down the buoyant moments before they gain too much momentum. "Just Because," in particular, trips over its own feet, snagged on a repetitious, lackluster chorus ("You really should have known/ just because"). These songs are comforting in their bombast (musical and otherwise), but they're a lot like make-up sex: intensely gratifying in the heat of the moment, yet delivering an empty afterglow.

But Strays does catch fire in its middle third. "The Riches" combines muted strafing runs by Navarro and company with an effective, idyllic coda, ebbing and flowing beneath a substantive, thoughtful lyric about making oneself available to life's pleasures and pains: "Ready or not man, I'm coming in/ into the life...into the life of riches!" Farrell shouts with a restrained exuberance, a performance that serves his subject matter well. "Superhero," meanwhile, takes a few more rhythmic and melodic risks than most of what precedes it, as does the jarring "Wrong Girl," an exercise in bluesy, Red Hot Chili Peppers-style funk-rock in which Chaney and Perkins get to swagger and Farrell yelps like it's 1988 again, with Navarro assuming the role of drill sergeant, confidently setting the cadence and propelling things along. Back to back, these three songs establish an aura of self-assurance and musical conviction that comfortably recalls the sense of possibility that so distinguished Nothing's Shocking.

Strays never quite recovers that feeling, especially on the lackluster "Everybody's Friend," which immediately follows and quickly dampens the embers of spirit its predecessors stoked. And while "Hypersonic" fails to live up to its name, it does raise the tempo again, before the album slides into the meandering closer "To Match the Sun." Strays lacks the gut-level rawness of Nothing's Shocking or the best exploratory moments of Ritual. Bereft of the force of ideas, the swelling of potential, it largely settles for a pleasant, high-calorie buzz of guitar heroics and sonic familiarity. It's nice to hear Jane's Addiction sounding like Jane's Addiction, but one hungers for more than an aural approximation, especially given the middle troika's glimpse of the record that could have been. Ultimately, the sound and fury of Strays signifies nothing very shocking.

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 Ratings Key:
 5.0: A classic
 4.0-4.9: Stellar work
 3.0-3.9: Worthwhile effort
 2.0-2.9: Nothing special
 1.1-1.9: Pretty bad
 0.0-1.0: Total disaster

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